Hope by Angela Rieck

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Early spring has it all. The landscape is shaking off its winter doldrums.  Bright green shoots are appearing on seemingly dead shrubbery. The trees cast a light green or red tint, letting us know that large expansive leaves are growing inside of them. The grass has turned a bright green and evergreens are getting their color.  

But what this season offers the most is hope.  This is the going to be the year.

As I fill my bird feeders, I convince myself that this is going to be the year that I get something other than brown birds, black birds or squirrels.  I am not asking for much, just a cardinal or two, or a blue jay or a house finch. I am not even asking for goldfinches or woodpeckers, just some color.  This is going to be the year. I fill my feeders with sunflower seeds, Nyger seeds, mealworms and a sugar solution for my hummingbirds.

This is going to be the year that my gooseneck Loosestrife remains contained, this is going to be the year that my Astilbe blooms like it did in NJ.  This is going to be the year that my nonstop roses really are nonstop.

All around me is hope, the daffodils provide bright yellow color when the sun is hidden by clouds.  Multi-colored tulips stand upright saluting spring. Flowering cherry and pear trees provide soft, puffy, pastel pink and white clouds against the sky. The Red Bud trees send pink-purple branches into the sky. My Helleborus has abundant, bushes of flowers.

Yes, this is the year, we’ll get rain at just the right time, the coffee grounds will work and I will have blue Hydrangeas.  The crab grass will refuse to germinate.

I can feel the hope and promise in the cool air as I happily weed, fertilize, remove debris and mulch my garden.

Suddenly, I hear the unmistakable caw-caw sounds overhead, I look up to see blackbirds circling my yard.  

I go inside.  I am not ready to give up on hope just yet.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

 

Piazza Navona by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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Long before Dan Brown made it a crime scene in one of his grisly thrillers, I had come to the conclusion that the Piazza Navona in Rome was a very “thin place.” In fact, I had even gone so far in my young (mind you, this was fifty years ago!) brain to think it was the really the center of the known universe, so perfect was it in concept, design, symmetry, and aesthetic harmony that everything else in the world must revolve around its sublime axis. Even now, all these years later, I think maybe I was privy to some cosmic secret.

I was lucky. I stumbled on the Piazza Navona one summer day having wandered through a warren of streets in a workingman’s neighborhood in Rome. Suddenly, in early morning light, the space just seemed to magically appear out of thin air. It was still a quiet time of day: no streams of gawking tourists, no caricature artists, just a pair of blue-habited nuns walking out of the old convent that used to overlook the square. I sat down to take it all in—the play of light and water and granite—lost in that ephemeral suspended moment of time that is the hallmark of a truly thin place.

Today’s piazza is an ancient place. Built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian in the first Century AD, it follows the oblong form of an open arena where ancient Romans used to congregate to watch games. It was officially designated a public space in the 15th Century. Today, art historians acknowledge the piazza as a superb example of Baroque Roman architecture, but I’m sticking with my own new-age designation: it’s a superbly thin place.

If God is in the details, then the Piazza Navona must surely be a part of heaven. In the center, the Fountain of Four Rivers (the Nile representing Africa, the Danube representing Europe, the Ganges, Asia, and the Rio de la Plata, the Americas) dominates the space. Designed by Lorenzo Bernini in 1651, the fountain adds a rather base human emotion to an otherwise divine vision. One of its stone gods faces the church of Sant’Agnese, designed and built by Francesco Borromini, a contemporary and rival of Signor Bernini. Apparently Signor Bernini didn’t think much of Borromini’s architectural acumen because the god of Bernini’s fountain has his hand raised in a cowering gesture as though one of Borromini’s Adam-and-Eve towers is about to topple over on his stone head. Today, that demeaning message would probably be delivered in a tweet.

There are two other fountains in the Piazza. The Fontana del Moro (the Moorish Fountain) is located at the southern end of the Piazza while the Fontana del Nettuno (Neptune’s Fountain) provides balance at the northern end. On a hot summer day, the splash and spray of the three fountains add a refreshing note to the cobblestones of the Piazza and the graceful facades of the surrounding buildings.

Be that as it may, it’s the life around and within the Piazza Navona that gives it a beating heart. There are bars and cafés, gelateria, ristoranti; people eating, drinking, talking, laughing, gesturing—after all, this is Italy. And yet, for all the buzz of the place (especially on a warm summer evening), there is a pervading sense of serenity and heavenly peace hovering over all the earthly activity in the Piazza. Even the jealousy and rivalry of some of the hands that created certain elements of the space seem to join in celebration of the gift they bequeathed to us. They must have had God whispering in their ears.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Out and About (Sort of): Loss and Resurrection by Howard Freedlander

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In a seven-day period ending the past Sunday, two people whom I liked and respected died and, then, another person came back from domestic strife and serious injury to reclaim the spotlight as one of the world’s currently superior golfers.

Funny how life brings sorrow and redemption in a never-ending cycle.

Though perhaps unknown to many who pay little or no attention to state politics, Delegate Mike Busch, longtime speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, died on Sunday, April 7 of pneumonia after struggling the past few years with serious health problems. He was a good and decent person. He ennobled public service.

Once an excellent football player in college and high school, he played the game of politics to win as the Democratic leader in the House. Based on comments by Republican legislators, he also played fairly. He always knew there was another day; alliances often shift in political combat.

A friend in the legislature wrote in response to my expression of sadness, “Without question, he was one of a kind, masterful and the finest of the finest. Personally, he has been a friend for many, many years, and it pained me to see him diminish during the Session, but I also understand he was in it for the long haul.”

I recall when I was serving as a deputy treasurer for the State of Maryland, he appeared in my office while hoping to see Treasurer Nancy Kopp. He sat down and started talking about sports, one of his favorite subjects. My sport was lacrosse; his was football. We played at schools in Philadelphia, he at Temple and I at the University of Pennsylvania. Our chat was easy and effortless.

I suspect that I experienced Mike Busch’s style; friendly and down-to-earth. He was immensely likable and very effective. Delegates referred to him as “coach” for his ability to bring consensus to a sometimes disruptive Democratic caucus.

Another quality person and longtime friend, Dr. Bob Blatchley, an Easton psychologist, died last week of Parkinson’s disease. With his wife, Virginia, he developed a practice devoted to families. I hazard to say that Bob and Virginia provided professional counseling support to many who remain appreciative.

As it turned out, Bob was raised not very far from me in northwest Baltimore. We attended rival high schools. We developed a friendship in Easton and belonged to the same club. I sadly watched as he dealt with a debilitating disease.

And just this past Sunday, I joined millions of viewers to watch as Tiger Woods battled from behind to win his fifth Masters at the renowned Augusta National Golf Club. He hadn’t won a major tournament in six years and the Masters in 11.

A fan with no expertise, I love to watch golf. I remain wondrous of how professional golfers can control their emotions as putts roll out of holes (cups), and powerfully hit shots land in water and sand traps (bunkers). I’m screaming from my easy chair. Yet they overcome their disappointment as another shot or challenging hole awaits.

The crowd at the luxurious golf club clearly were pulling for what had once been a common occurrence: another dramatic victory by a gifted, tough-minded athlete whose nickname is an immediate identifier worldwide. Tiger overcame a publicized split with his former wife and serious knee, neck and back problems.

Sports provide lessons for life. What I saw at this Masters was a man committed to regain his once magical touch as one of golf’s greatest. His legend of fans stuck with him over the years, hoping that Tiger would overcome difficult professional and personal setbacks. He did just that.

Death is inevitable, leaving in its wake grief over an emotional loss and gratitude for having shared time with the deceased. Resurrection of a career and reputation, through grit and determination, too begs admiration.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

Are There Answers? By Al Sikes

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Easter week in my faith tradition—Christianity—is rich with questions and necessary introspection.

Jesus Christ is tortured, crucified, and resurrected. Power, the human intoxicant prevailed, at least until “the stone was moved back.” A more intense human drama, swirling around deep religious and temporal cleavages, is hard to imagine. In both human and religious history, there is not a more dramatic context serving up more vital questions.

This week then presents the final chapters: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and then Easter Day. But, allow me to use this drama to ask other than just religious questions. Questions that are both religious (recurring in most faiths) yet, quite human.

Love is the essence of the Judeo-Christian faith. Divine commandments are clearly stated. Yet we know that humanity has a difficult and, for some, impossible relationship with love. Indeed some who disparage faith, in a divine being, use the impossibility of enduring love as proof of hope over reality.

Christianity recognizes the intractable difficulty and assures us that we can ask for and receive forgiveness when our passions or intellect preempt our devotion. Some, noting the apparent ease of forgiveness, suggest we engage in “cheap grace.” Recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, the German theologian who gave up his life challenging Hitler, words: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance… Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

I have now strayed into territory that should be left to those who have made faith and its attendant callings their life’s work. Let me instead translate the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves into a single word: empathy.

What would the United States be like if we had more empathetic capitalism, for example? Does empathy toward employees and customers undermine the profitable provision of products and services? Or does “hard market” capitalism eventually undermine free markets?

Much is written about self-love in the context of helicopter parenting, selfies, narcissistic leaders, celebrities and the like. Love or empathy cannot exist without some level of humility. Only by recognizing our own vulnerabilities can we find genuine, empathetic expression for others.
Can empathy exist when it is largely expressed within an affinity circle? Is empathy simply a tool when expressed by politicians? When self-love is both ascendant and ubiquitous is the culture healthy?

Questions beg questions, but attention spans say wrap it up. So, in this most holy of weeks, in my faith tradition, I simply leave you with questions. But, I would submit, that exploring for answers to life’s most important questions is itself a good journey.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

By the Byways – Crisfield

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The southernmost place on the Chesapeake Country Scenic Byways map is Crisfield, Maryland [insert Maryland state Scenic Byways website.  A visit from Easton takes you 87 miles along the Scenic Byway and there are a number of interesting stops along the way. On this day, direct to Crisfield was the plan with a few decades having passed since the last visit.

One is immediately struck by the contrasts. Fast food places with long established seafood diners along the route…no longer the train track, but highway 413 about as straight as the rail. The route ending at the decades-old pier with a skyline that now shows condominiums next to the fresh seafood delivery trucks.

 

A fascinating history has not made the struggle in the present any easier. However, a determined community offers its visitor a number of enjoyable sites, tours, meals and activities.

Located on Tangier Sound, Crisfield was originally a small fishing village, Annemessex Neck. As Europeans colonized the area, it was renamed Somers Cove. The active fishing village grew and reportedly, in 1804 there were over 100 buildings in the area, making it one of the largest places on the Delmarva Peninsula.  The growth continued as the town became known as Crisfield for the man who decided to bring the Pennsylvania Railroad to the fishing village in 1866. The fishing village grew to become known as the “Seafood Capital of the World.”

Crisfield would grow to about 25,000 people in 1904 making it the second largest city in Maryland after Baltimore. And, seafood from Crisfield was being shipped throughout the country.

Decades later, as the health of the Chesapeake Bay declined, the way of life for the watermen became more difficult. Then, in 1976 the railroad shut down.

Today, with not quite 3,000 residents, Crisfield remains a tourist location and jump off point to Smith Island and Tangier Island. There are seafood restaurants and beautiful camping areas and of course an historic marina. There is even an airstrip for the adventuresome pilots.

 

TripAdvisor provides interesting options for visitors to consider 

This southernmost point of Chesapeake Country delivers on its promise as scenic, especially when viewed through the lens of its rich history.

Washington Rarities on Display at Miller Library

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Physician’s scales used by Washington’s personal doctor

Washington College’s Miller Library is hosting a special exhibit of items related to George Washington this weekend. The exhibit, in the Sophie Kerr rare books room on the library’s second floor, is a special feature for Admitted Students day, Saturday, April 13. However, the general public may get a special preview of the exhibit on Thursday, April 11, 1 to 3 p.m. and Friday, April 12, from 11 a.m. 1 p.m.

The exhibit has drawn rare books and other items from the college’s archives to give a historic portrait of the college’s long relationship with its benefactor and namesake. Anyone interested in Colonial history, and its resonance through the two centuries since Washington’s death, should make it a point to visit this exhibit.

Jennifer Nesbitt, the administrative assistant at Miller Library, gave your Spy reporter a tour of the exhibits, pointing out items of particular interest. While many of the objects are special, perhaps the prize of the collection is a set of physician’s scales used by Dr. Elisha Cullen Dick, who attended Washington on his deathbed. They were donated to the college by Dick’s great-grandson, James Alfred Pearce Crisfield.

Another unique item is Alexander Hamilton’s personal copy of Washington’s A Message from the President of the United States to Congress, with Hamilton’s handwritten signature on the title page.

Alexander Hamilton’s copy of a published address by Washington

But these items just scratch the surface of the exhibit, which includes not only rare and historic books, but a Victorian needlework portrait of Washington, copied from the Gilbert Stuart portrait, and a bust of Washington made from Confederate paper money after the Civil War. And there is a commemorative linen handkerchief from 1806, with quotations from Washington’s farewell speech. Commemorative handkerchiefs were popular after American Independence, on account of British colonial policies that forbade colonists from manufacturing cloth items. This policy was designed to support British manufacturers at the expense of the colonies, so after the American Revolution, locally produced cloth became an important industry and symbol of political and economic independence. Handkerchiefs like this one were made and sold as souvenirs and keepsakes.

A Victorian needlework copy of the Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington

Nesbitt said the college plans to bring out other items from its special collections for public viewing on a regular basis. It’s a good reminder just how special the college’s collections are, and what a great resource they are for the Chestertown community.

A commemorative handkerchief from 1806 with quotes from Washingtons Farewell Address

All photos from George Washington Exhibit, unless otherwise noted, are by Peter Heck.

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Scenes from the Dog Park by Angela Rieck

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Dog Parks are the new water coolers.  Yea, it surprised me too. You know the proverbial water cooler where office workers gossip and connect, that has been replaced by dog parks.

After my world imploded, I went to the Key West to hide out and recover, well mostly hide out.  I had been invited to take my dogs to the dog park. I finally summoned the courage to go this year; it took a little while, but eventually I got it.

Key West is a dog town like St Michaels, MD.  It has several dog parks and even a beach for dogs.  Dog owners routinely allow their dogs to run freely along the piers, seeking new furry and non furry friends.  

But the actual dog park has become a kind of social club, a perfect place for introverts or extroverts.  There is no commitment, you can come if you want. Eventually people time their visits to socialize with the same people. Tourists and residents alike come to sit in a circle and catch up on local news and events. People of all ages, all incomes, all races, all orientations, come to the dog park to find acceptance. Even people who don’t own dogs drop by. A homeless man just comes in to pet the dogs.

As a widow, I have met other members of that awful club, we tend to sit together quietly, talking about our lives without judgement or fear, in a mutual understanding of the un-understandable.

It is a place of generosity and connection. I have received kind offers from businesses for discounts, assistance and I have offered the same.  

The sparse research supports my experience. The COLA (Citizens for Off-Leash Areas) organization reports that participants surveyed indicated that they never knew their neighbors before going to the dog park.  Dog parks seem to be most effective when they are within walking distance of the community.

A 2014 study published in Leisure Sciences, an Interdisciplinary Journal affiliated with the Harvard Kennedy School, found that dog parks helped residents build relationships and enhance communities. In particular, they discovered:

  • At dog parks, pets serve as avatars, allowing owners to meet people through their pets.

  • The demographics of park visitors are irrelevant in forming relationships, friendships are formed unrelated to politics, race, gender, age, religion or sexual orientation.

  • Dog parks provide a place for owners to get information about local services as well as referrals related to housing and employment. Some owners have shared resources such as offering to carpool or tutor a child.

  • Some relationships extend outside the park and regulars refer to their park as their “community.”

According to a 2018 poll conducted by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), 91% of Americans believe dog parks provide benefits to the communities they serve.

Maybe there is an opportunity to create something in St Michaels (we have one in Oxford).  St. Michaels is ideal because it is a walkable town and it is a tourist town that is dog friendly. Somehow dog parks bring out the better angels of our nature.

Oh, and the dogs like it too.

Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.

 

Does Choice Appeal to You? By Al Sikes

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Choice! It is simply hard to fathom a richly layered life without it. I can imagine some would enjoy always having to choose from no more than two alternatives, but not me.

Indeed we have laws that lean hard against monopoly (a single provider), duopoly (two providers), and at times even an oligopoly (concentrated  power). The legal term is antitrust, the underlying philosophy recognizes the constricting if not predatory nature of not having a choice. Quality suffers. Prices are too high. Often service must be regulated. Plus, trying to reach somebody to help puts us in dial-around hell.

So how do we tolerate laws that narrow one of our most important choices: elected leaders? In important ways, laws, written and unwritten, circumscribe choice right down to how many can appear in Presidential debates, an essential gate to viability.

Since most of today’s political noise surrounds the 2020 election for President, I will concentrate my distaste. Let me begin with political Party ideology which so presses in on candidates they can barely think or have a reason to do so. The base, left and right, funded and stirred by special interests, often dictates the script. Is there, for example, a candidate who is both pro-choice on the issue of abortion and quite conservative when it comes to budget deficits?

Ideology is a French word and its origins date to 1796. Perhaps the most colorful disdain for the term and its implications date to an exchange between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. About ideology Adams asked: “Does it mean Idiotism? The Science of Non compos menticism? The Science of Lunacy? The Theory of Delirium? Or does it mean the Science of Self Love?”

My take: it is frequently the science of thoughtlessness. Ideologists are relieved of having to think, as somebody else has written the script. In a world where Google allows almost infinite searching for an answer, our political leaders are relegated to a search algorithm that is mostly featured in children’s books.

What then are we to think when presented with two choices to be President and learn neither of them thinks? They are even relieved from having to provide context for their ideological answers to questions about life, debt, health, security and the like because there are marketing people who do that.

With those thoughts in mind, I watched Howard Schultz last week fielding questions at a televised Town Hall meeting in Kansas City.

Voila, Howard Schultz thinks. And he carries the confidence of accomplishment; he was, among other things, prepared to admit error. When talking about Starbucks, the company he founded, he was particularly passionate about employee health, education and retirement benefits which are available to full and part- time employees (called Partners).

The Town Hall hosts, showing conventional skepticism, asked how he could possibly win since if he runs it will be as a Third Party candidate. Schultz, displaying a confident tone, talked about the rigidity in the two Parties; he believes left/right ideology will result in much more passionate centrist voters from both Parties. We’ll see.

But, from my standpoint sign me up, I want choice. Division now organizes our collective lives and that must end.

Finally a further word on Presidential Debates. There is an organization called the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD); it is one of those centers of power that most people do not know about. The Commission of twelve persons decides the criteria a candidate must meet to qualify. In order to appear on the debate stage, a third Party candidate must poll, nationally, 15%. The polls are conducted post-Labor Day.

By the Fall of any given Presidential election year, Independents, sensing that one of the two major Party candidates will win, begin to voice their support for the least objectionable. After all, by then, the advertising channels are filled with advertisements for the two candidates who enjoy overwhelming financial advantage.

Criteria for 2020 have not been published. Using the same 5-poll arrangement, the CPD should include the third Party candidate with the most support thus assuring a three-way debate. This simple shift would tell the universe of voters who register as Independents that they have a role to play. The result would be catalytic, both during the campaign and the debates. Independents would be given a voice and candidates would be forced to think.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

 

Out and About (Sort of): Session Ends; Results Don’t by Howard Freedlander

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Maryland’s 2019 General Assembly session ended last night at midnight. It was an eventful one, including the overrides of four vetoes by Gov. Larry Hogan.

Throw in the mix the ethics upheaval at the University of Maryland Medical System’s (UMMS) board of directors, and a racist remark by a Harford County delegate, and it’s easy to characterize the 90-day legislature as one pulsating with political action and lapse in human judgment.

Three of the veto overrides have particular importance to the Eastern Shore.  At the constant risk of being redundant, I state again the need for Shore residents to pay attention to the work of their state senators and delegates. The impact becomes quickly noticeable.

As I wrote in January in anticipation of the session, lifting the minimum wage to $15/hour, in phases, by 2025 (2026 for companies with fewer than 15 employees) was a major, much debated issue. Proponents won the day.  They argued that a higher minimum wage—now $10.10 an hour—was necessary to provide a livable salary to those on the edge of poverty. Opponents predicted potential job cuts by small businesses and possible movement of businesses to adjoining states with a lower minimum wage.

I had argued for caution and open-minded stance by proponents toward arguments made by business interests. I suspect I was whistling in the wind.

The second veto override concerned a decision made a few years ago by Gov. Hogan to move back the beginning of the school to after Labor Day to enhance Ocean City tourism dollars. Local school systems vigorously objected, compelled to adjust the school year to ensure the mandate for 180 school days. The majority of legislators agreed with local boards and returned the power of controlling the school year to Maryland’s 23 counties and the City of Baltimore.

I agree that local school boards should retain the authority to determine when schools should open and close.

The third override happened yesterday when the State Senate joined the House of Delegates in supporting legislation establishing five oyster sanctuaries, including two in Talbot County, Harris Creek and Tred Avon River, and one in Dorchester County, the Little Choptank River. Gov. Hogan listened to local watermen who rightfully want to protect their livelihoods but wrongfully oppose science-based methods to protect the oyster harvest. The oyster population has dropped precipitously during recent decades.

I believe that the sanctuaries must be protected. Not only do oysters satisfy the palate, but they also, nearly as importantly, serve as filters in deterring pollution of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Nine members of the UMMS board were found in mid-March to have received hospital contracts, some sole source, that wreaked of unethical self-dealing.  Consequently, the legislature quickly approved a bill to require all board members to resign in phases and then re-apply and to mandate an audit of the UMMS contract process. Shore Medical Center is part of the UMMS system.

I applaud the legislature for moving quickly to address an unconscionable abuse of fiscal responsibility by several board members.

Finally, Del. Mary Ann Lisanti used an infamously shameful derogatory term to describe an African-American community in Maryland. Consequently, she lost most of her legislative assignments.

Some may be pleased whenever a legislative session ends. I for one believe that the Maryland General Assembly is an effective political body able to take action that doesn’t stall in partisan gridlock, as is the case in our disabled, dysfunctional Congress.

Citizen-legislators who return to their private and professional lives after 90 days of bill-making are effective representatives of the public body.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

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